Monday, 27 June 2011

Critics are venomous serpents that delight in hissing

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When the movie Gilda was released in 1946 to less-than-stellar reviews, its lead actress, Rita Hayworth, immediately became somewhat dejected. Understandably keen to rebuild the confidence of his biggest star, Columbia Pictures' then-president, Harry Cohn, quickly assembled a list of quotes relating to the supposed uselessness of critics and included them in the following letter.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions, who will be selling the letter in July.



Transcript
COLUMBIA PICTURES CORPORATION

March 19th, 1946

Dear Rita:-

Virginia tells me you were disappointed by a few of the New York reviews. In the first place, you should only be discouraged if they don't notice you - a personality can only be the subject of criticism after they have been the subject of much conversation. And a person is not a personality until they have been the subject of much conversation. In the second place, why would you weigh the opinion of a couple of probably impotent guys against the hundreds who have seen the picture and told you that you were absolutely great?

If you don't believe me on this score, here are some of the opinions of critics from some of the greatest thinkers of all times.

"Critics! - Appalled I venture on the name, these cut-throat bandits in the paths of fame." Robert Burns.

"A poet that fails in writing becomes often a morose critic. The weak and insipid white wine makes at length excellent vinegar." William Shenstone.

"Critics in general are venomous serpents that delight in hissing." W. B. Daniel.

"Reviewers are usually people who would have been poets, historians, biographers, if they could; they have tried their talents at one or the other, and have failed; therefore they turn critics." S. T. Coleridge.

"Reviewers, with some rare exceptions, are a most stupid and malignant race. As a bankrupt thief turns thief-maker in despair, so an unsuccessful author turns critic." P. B. Shelley.

"For critics I care the five-hundred-thousandth part of the tythe of a half-farthing." Charles Lamb.

"He who would write and can't write can surely review." J. R. Lowell.

"Nature, when she invented, manufactured, and patented her authors, contrived to make critics out of the chips that were left." C. W. Holmes.

"The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all." Mark Twain.

"Insects sting, not in malice, but because the want to live. It is the same with critics: They desire our blood, not our pain." Nietzsche.

"Criticism is easy and art is difficult." Destouches.

"The pleasure of criticism deprives us of that of being deeply moved by beautiful things." Jean de la Bruyere.

"Criticism is a study by which men grow important and formidable at a very small expense." Samuel Johnson.

"They who write ill and they who ne'er dare write, turn critics out of mere revenge and spite." John Dryden.

"Critics are like eunuchs; they can tell you what to do, but they can't do it themselves!" Harry Cohn.

I am very excited by your performance in GILDA. Pretty soon everyone in the country is going to be. You should be dancing in the streets, baby. I am.

(Signed)